PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa's government has lashed out at foreign powers after attempts to clamp down on organisers of the proposed July 31 protests were met with global condemnation.
Mnangagwa was accused of using the Covid-19 pandemic to suppress fundamental freedoms following the arrest of Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume, who is mobilising the planned protests against alleged corruption.
Police also arrested prominent journalist hopewell Chin'ono on allegations of mobilising for the protests, which the police say will turn violent. The duo was denied bail with a harare magistrate ruling on Friday that Chin'ono "is a danger to the public because he has not yet completed his mission of inciting people to demonstrate on July 31".
A broad alliance of opposition parties, civic society groups and churches has emerged in recent weeks to push for the protests, much to the chagrin of the government, which now says the demonstrations must be stopped because they will turn violent.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa told journalists in harare yesterday that the reaction to the arrests by Western countries, including the United States, showed they were behind Ngarivhume and Chin'ono's activities.
Mutsvangwa used strong terms to describe the US and her allies whom she described as "evil and doom-mongers".
"Chin'ono and Ngarivhume belong to that camp of evil wishers," she charged.
She claimed Western countries were sponsoring the looming protests as a way of gaining access to Zimbabwe's resources.
"It's cruel self-enrichment from our resources that they seek," Mutsvangwa bellowed.'
"Please why can't you give Africa a break? As Zimbabwe we are saying: 'We can't breathe.
"The role of foreign powers in this plot to instigate an illegal regime change in Zimbabwe is made apparent by a set of events and statements that followed the police operation," Mutsvangwa said, arguing that US embassy officials were, within minutes of police arrival at Chin'ono's house, tweeting to bring pressure on police not to act. "President Mnangagwa and his government are fully apprised on this evil agenda and devilish machinations."
Chin'ono's lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa described Mutsvangwa's claims as "nonsense".She said government's attempts to portray the proposed protests as engineered by the West were a tired trick that was overplayed by the late Robert Mugabe and failed.
"I can say it here and now that this is the kind of nonsense we have been listening to for the past 40 years," Mtetwa fumed.
"Any Zimbabwean who wants to assert their rights is being presented as someone who is working for some foreign agencies. "It is not Americans that are being messed up by this government, it's not Americans who are dying because they have no hospitals to go to, it is not Americans who cannot send their children to school, it is not Americans who are hungry.
"So why would Zimbabweans wait for Americans to tell them that they are suffering when they are experiencing it every day?"
She said Zimbabweans were sold a dummy by the new administration that claimed Mnangagwa would be a "listening president" when he was propelled into power by the military in 2017.
"They came in saying they were different from the previous regime, but actually they are turning out to be worse," Mtetwa added."As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely nothing new in what Mutsvangwa said.
"It is always the same old excuse. It's sanctions, sanctions, sanctions or regime change agenda.
"The constitution actually allows regime change.
"For Mrs Mutsvangwa to be where she is, they changed the previous regime.
"Other Zimbabweans are entitled to do exactly the same thing when they perceive them to be doing what Robert Mugabe's regime was doing."
Gladys hlatywayo, the MDC Alliance secretary for international affairs, said Mnangagwa administration was"deluded" if it believed pressure to end corruption was coming from external forces.
"It is very unfortunate that the Mnangagwa regime has consistently aimed at foreign countries as a way to deflect attention from its misrule. Zimbabweans do not need anyone to tell them that Zanu-PF has failed and must go," hlatywayo said.
"To suggest that the current agitation is foreign-engineered is not only baseless and a serious indictment on the so-called re-engagement thrust by the regime, but an insult to the intelligence of Zimbabweans who have suffered from decades of corruption, patronage, human rights abuses and bad governance under Zanu-PF.
"On the other hand, the international community cannot watch whilst a rogue regime goes berserk.
"International law clearly gives the international community a responsibility to protect and this is why you see international players calling the Mnangagwa regime out."
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Blessing Vava said the allegations against embassies, civic society and other actors by the regime were baseless.
"those are baseless allegations by a desperate regime, which is out of touch with reality," Vava said.
"It doesn't need any outside influence to tell that Mnangagwa and his government have failed and they must go."
US embassy officials were not immediately available, but the US assistant secretary of State for African Affairs tibor Nagy on Friday was scathing about Chin'ono and Ngarivhume's treatment.
"The Zimbabwean government has denied hopewell Chin'ono and Jacob Ngarivhume their freedom while the corrupt remain free," Nagy tweeted. "When will the government uphold the people's constitutional rights to freedom of political expression and freedom of the press?"
Other international bodies that condemned Mnangagwa's administration included the United Nations human Rights Commission, which on Friday said the government must stop using the Covid-19 pandemic to suppress human rights in the country. Josep Borrel Fontelles, the high representative of the european Union for foreign affairs and security policy, expressed concern over the developments in Zimbabwe.
"Recent developments in Zimbabwe are deeply worrying," Fontelles said.
"The work of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations is essential to support reforms that stand the test of time.
"Upholding constitutional rights is a principle which cannot be compromised."
Mnangagwa has come under the spotlight for his clampdown on dissent with critics saying his government became more authoritarian after he imposed a lockdown to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus in March.